Sunday, November 22, 2009


This is an addendum to Gwen’s November 14th post about the importance of voice in writing. To sum up what Gwen said (forgive me, Gwen, if I don’t get it right!) minor problems in writing can be overcome or excused if the writer has a great voice and style.

To paraphrase Prince Hamlet, the story’s the thing.

I agree that an engaging voice is critical to a writer. Yours can be the most wonderful story in the world, but if you can’t tell it in a way that will draw the reader in, your story remains trapped between the covers of your book, languishes in the dark recesses of a desk drawer or floats lonely and unread in cyber space. As writers, we are storytellers. We want to share our stories with others. I’m sure there are writers out there who write for the sheer joy of putting pen to paper without a care for being published. I am not of them. To me, having a story that remains unread is like an actor performing on stage to an empty theater. Not my idea of fulfilling.

So, we sweat and strive and agonize to achieve that elusive (and, hopefully!) great voice, the perfect conduit that will deliver our precious baby to the reader . . . and then what? Where do we go from there? How do you achieve the right voice for the NEXT story you want to tell, especially if the voice in the book you just finished is a strong one?

That’s where I am right now. I just finished writing a book where the main character’s voice feels natural and organic, so much so that I am having trouble and some real anxiety about how to move on to the next book. Basically, I’m starting from scratch with the whole find-your-voice thing. Arggh! The main character in the next book is NOTHING like the heroine in the previous one, but I have to find her voice!

What tricks do you use to discover a character’s voice, especially if you and your character have little in common? How to imbue them with tricks and quirks and character traits of their own, not to mention that elusive voice, that will draw the reader in, make them appealing, likeable and totally distinguishable from the character you just wrote?

Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.


Christine said...

Hi Jeanie: I don't really have any tricks to finding a character's voice in the story. I haven't worried about it, because I feel writing voice reflects the overall tone of the book in narrative and all the characters' actions. I just write it. One thing I did discuss with a CP was the idea of knowing what your overall writing theme is in your writing. With all my books, there is a common thread underlying the characters and my motivations for writing them. With each book, this becomes more evident.

Oddly enough, I asked one of my first CPs why they even included me in their Critique group when I clearly was a novice writer (in craft/didn't know GMC etc). She said they already recognized my writing voice and knew the craft issues were easy to fix once taught. *shoulder shrug*

One suggestion I have is to sit down and ask yourself WHY you want to tell this person's story. Why is her story important to her and what you hope to achieve with the telling. I know this process helped me tremendously when my characters took a hike due to extreme frustration with my inability to figure out what to do with the story. When I revisited my original motivation for writing the story (written in Feb 09), the answer was clear.

Great post! Thanks for sharing.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great addendum, Jeanie. I'm not really sure how to find voice. For me, it's somewhat separate from the characters. It's in my cadence, how much, and what type of, description I provide, how long the scenes and chapters are, etc.

I think that as I start a story, my voice develops as I write, but I'm fairly consistent from book to book, too. When I revise, it becomes more consistent.

Do you write in 1st or 3rd person? Since I write in 3rd, my narration style can be consistent across books (even in deep POV), but if I wrote in 1st, I'd have to figure out the narrating style of the character.

Your voice is in there, just keep writing until you feel it come out. Good luck!

Cari Hislop said...

I think there are layers of voices in most stories. There is the author's voice (I try to stay out of the story, but I'm there in the structure, description and types of charcters (as Gwen points out). Then there are the voices of each character, some voices being more prominent than others. I rarely know what characters voices will sound like until I sit down at the computer and start writing. If I'm in the flow their cadence and speech patterns tend to appear.

When I run into difficulties I have conversations with my characters or mentally introduce them to other characters and listen to them talk.

Jeanie said...

Thanks, guys. Good suggestions all. Yes, I agree that a writer has an 'overall' voice that comes across. I guess what I'm struggling with is my character's internal voice, the one that comes out when you write internal dialogue. This 'voice' tells a lot about the character, in my opinion, and drives the story along. It's critical, because if the reader doesn't like your heroine you're in deep doo-doo! I will get there . . . I hope! Thanks for the input. It's all a learning process for me.

M.V.Freeman said...

I understand completely your frustration. The current character I am polishing was hard for me--but I have managed to hear her.

How? I try to determine how and why she or he is there--and what is important to them. I may do free writing...just random thoughts. I also let it sit as I plot..and listen to music. But these are my may have to find your own.

As you can see, its many layered, there is no one set way to find that voice, but it will come. The story has to be told..that's why you are compelled to write it.

Good luck, I know you will find that voice!

Jeanie said...

Thanks! I like the idea about random thoughts. I just have to wrap my head around Evie, the character I'm struggling with. Addy, the character in the book I just finished, is sassy and a real smarty pants, while Evie is very shy and self-conscious. A total 180. But, I will get there! Fortunately, this book is set in the same town as the last one, so I will have some recurring characters, including Smarty Pants Addy, who is Evie's best friend. It's going to be fun, I just have to get there mentally.

Jeanie said...

Gwen, in answer to your question about first person or third person, I mostly write in third person, although I slip into present tense sometimes in a character's thoughts. Haven't had the nerve to try first person yet, but maybe one day!